Eureka 150

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Dawn near the Eureka Stockade Centre, Eureka Stockade Memorial Park on the 150th anniversary of the Eureka Stockade battle, 03 December 2004, Photography: Clare Gervasoni

Presentation to Parliament for Eureka 150

Exactly 150 years since the Ballarat Reform League presented their Charter for ratification to over 10,000 miners on Bakery Hill on 11 November 1854, the Mayor of Ballarat, Councillor David Vendy, presented a framed copy of the four page Charter to the Victorian Parliament. The historic presentation, which received bipartisan support form all sides of government concluded with Premier Steve Bracks stating the charter "Was ahead of its time. The Ballarat Reform League Charter is a landmark document in the history of our nation. it is our Declaration of Independence. Our Magna Carter. And a cornerstone of Australian democracy."<Ballarat Courier, 12 November 2004.</ref>

The Eureka Flag flew on the Victorian Parliament house on 11 November 2004 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Charter's ratification. [1]


Request for Recognition of the Eureka Flag under the Flags Act 1953, 2004. Federation University Historical Collection.


Speech by Mayor Vendy on the presentation of the Charter to the Victorian Parliament - November 11, 2004.

Speaker, as Mayor of Ballarat, and on behalf of the Citizens of Ballarat, I am honoured to present to you and the Parliament of Victoria, a copy of the Charter of Bakery Hill.

The Charter stands alongside the Australian Constitution as a testament to the vitality of Australian democracy.

It does so because, over fifty years before the writing of our Constitution, the Charter proclaimed two fundamental truths that give meaning to a true democracy. The solemn words of the Charter, ‘the people are the only legitimate source of all political power’ are joined with an insistence that every citizen possesses ‘an inalienable right to have a voice in making the laws he is called upon to obey.’

Beneath the Southern Cross, the diggers at the Eureka Stockade shed their blood as a pledge of their allegiance to the solemn words of the Charter. Australian democracy is still vibrant 150 years later because the people have remained true to the pledge handed on to them.

Speaker, the principles of the Charter of Bakery Hill are also a justification for, and a statement of, the high purpose of this Parliament.

In giving you this copy I and the community of Ballarat express confident hope that you will find a source of strength in its words.

Cr David Vendy Mayor


Speech by the Premier of Victoria, the Hon Steve Bracks At the launch of Eureka 150, August 11 2004 at Federation Square Melbourne

I would like to acknowledge the people of the Kulin Nation – the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we stand.

I pay my respects to their Elders – past and present – and all Indigenous Elders who are with us today.

Welcome everyone to the launch of the Eureka 150 project.

At 4.45AM on December 3 it will be exactly 150 years since the Government troops stormed the Eureka Stockade – and 30 miners and five soldiers were killed.

But we are still debating what Eureka really means. Is it an event of national importance? The cradle of Australian democracy? Or is it just a colourful episode in our history with no real meaning for contemporary Australia?

For me there is no doubt Eureka is a national symbol of the right of people to have a say in how they are governed. And by Eureka I don’t just mean the battle of December 3 – 1854.

I mean the seismic social shift caused by the Gold Rush.

It’s easy to forget that the Gold Rush was an event unparalleled in our history. That our State was literally forged from the Gold Rush. Victoria became a colony in 1851. And gold was first discovered here in 1851.

Victoria underwent a revolution of sorts in the three years between the first gold strike at Clunes and the first gunshot at Eureka. Our population tripled – going from 77,345 in 1851 to 236,798 in 1854.

To put that in perspective – imagine what it would be like if Victoria tripled its current population between now and 2007. What would happen if we had to find room for an extra 10 million people overnight?

For colonial Victoria it was – literally – an egalitarian evolution by demographic revolution. Inside five years our State underwent a profound demographic shift.

In 1851 we were a sleepy sheep outpost – a British monoculture and squattocracy. By 1856, we had an elected Parliament, a gold economy and a multicultural democracy.

Commemorative Miner's Right, 1904 Federation University Historical Collection.

Between 1851 and 1856 – and particularly in the 12 months leading up to the Eureka Rebellion – these new Victorians railed against the taxes of the monthly miner’s licence and demanded political representation.

The miners’ campaign for democratic reform was fired by the zeal of new Victorians – Chartists from England, Irish patriots, and Europeans and Americans brimming with notions of liberty and republicanism.

It led to the ratification of the Ballarat Reform League Charter in a meeting on Bakery Hill on November 11 – 1854. A landmark document that demanded democratic representation.

The tragedy of the Eureka Stockade followed just 22 days later.

Much has already been said about the Eureka Stockade.

• Sir Robert Menzies believed “The Eureka Revolution was an earnest attempt at democratic government.”

• Doc Evatt reckoned “Australian democracy was born at Eureka.”

• And Gough Whitlam went further – saying “The Labor Party would be less than human if we did not see in the events of Eureka…a symbol of the pride, the independence of spirit, the democratic traditions and the strong nationalist aspirations for which Labor has always stood.”

Rather than add to those declarations I would like to make an observation about Eureka’s contemporary resonance. Today we are a thoroughly multicultural State and nation. And Eureka – the so-called birthplace of Australian democracy – was a thoroughly multicultural affair.

Of the 101 miners officially counted at the Stockade on December 3 only four were Australian born. The 97 other miners hailed from 19 countries – Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, Italy, Corsica, Greece, Germany, Russia, Holland, France, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, the United States, Canada and the West Indies.

Peter Lalor – their leader and a future Speaker of our Legislative Council – was an Irishman.

‘Captain’ Ross – the miner who designed the legendary Southern Cross flag and was fatally wounded at the foot of the Stockade’s flagpole – was a Canadian.

Raffaello Carboni – who was tried for treason and later elected to adjudicate mining disputes in Ballarat – was an Italian.

And John Joseph – the only U.S. citizen tried for treason – was an African American.

When you look at Eureka in this context its importance in our evolution – from a fledgling Colony to an egalitarian nation of immigrants – becomes clear. It may have occurred 150 years ago, but the aspirations that fired Eureka – justice, democracy and the right to dissent – still have currency.

And that’s why we are embarking on a $1.9 million program to mark the 150th anniversary of Eureka. The Arts Minister – Mary Delahunty – will detail the anniversary program shortly, but its highlights include:

• An international conference on democracy. • A four-day world music festival. • A new musical. • A 60-page teaching resource that will be made available to all secondary schools in Australia. • A touring exhibition that will feature historical images of Eureka – as well as works by artists such as Sidney Nolan. • A film program celebrating two Eureka Stockades – the 1947 film starring Chips Rafferty and the 1983 mini-series starring Bryan Brown. • A range of Ballarat-based events and commemorations – including a Dawn Commemoration on December 3.

A national reference group chaired by the Arts Minister is also looking at other ways in which the anniversary can be nationally recognised. And our Government has put $520,000 towards the development of the heritage-listed site of the Eureka Stockade.

In the spirit of Eureka – our Government is also working to ensure the democracy forged out of the Gold Rush remains relevant to Victorians. That’s why we have reformed State Parliament – introducing fixed four-year terms in both Houses and proportional representation in the Legislative Council.

And that’s why – in the upcoming session of Parliament – we will amend the Constitution Act to give recognition to Victoria’s Aboriginal people and their contribution to the State of Victoria.

Because democracy is not just a word. It is not history. It evolves as we change – reflecting our goals and aspirations. And it calls on us to protect the civil rights of all members of our community. No matter what their race, creed or nationality. No matter what language they speak.

And it is – as the Ballarat Reform League Charter states – “the inalienable right of every citizen to have a voice in making the laws he is called upon to obey.” And that “taxation without representation is tyranny”.

Steve Bracks 11 August 2004


Speech by Professor Geoffrey Blainey presented this speech at the launch by Australia Post of its Eureka Stockade 150th Anniversary Stamp Issue on the steps of Parliament House Melbourne and at The Eureka Centre Tuesday 29th June 2004.

"It¹s just a postage stamp, but it will arouse mountains of discussion. The battle at the Eureka Stockade was all over in an hour, but many people are still arguing about it. The event will provoke nation-wide debate this year, the 150th anniversary. Congratulations to Australia Post for honouring this event with such fidelity to history.

Nearly every political party and group in Australia has claimed a special link with Eureka. The Labor Party, the Liberal Party, the old DLP, the Nationals, the Communists, the Republicans, the Multiculturalists, the upholders of civil liberties, the opponents of excessive government regulation, the opponents of the national identity card, today¹s trade union movement, today¹s mining prospectors - they all pluck a different message from the Eureka Stockade.

Next to Gallipoli this is probably the most debated military event in our history. Of course it is older than Gallipoli. Curiously the leader of the Eureka rebellion, Peter Lalor, lost a grandson at Gallipoli.

What actually happened? Ballarat in 1854 was one of the most populous goldfields the world had seen. A spreading metropolis of tents and huts and shops and hotels, it was pockmarked with mining holes and shafts, shallow and deep.

But the miners were hit by outdated regulations and taxes. Everybody had to buy an expensive licence, even if he earned no income. And the police who hunted for the unlicensed miners - they were not the salt of the earth.

In the end there were massive meetings of protest, the symbolic burning of mining licences, the designing of a revolutionary flag, angry talk of a republic, the collecting of guns and ammunition, and the building of a simple wooden fort or stockade. It was the only serious rebellion in our history.

The months of protest involved massive public support from the miners, but the final rebellion did not. The Victorian government had no option but to storm the stockade; every government in Europe would have done likewise. Soldiers and police made a surprise attack at dawn one Sunday morning. The death toll was 30 miners and five soldiers.

What lessons should we draw? We each will have our own ideas.

Firstly, the gold miners were demanding a ‘fair go’. This powerful democratic movement aired genuine grievances. The government did not listen attentively enough, did not act quickly enough.

Secondly, Australia is one of the oldest, continuous democracies in the world. Democracy means government by debate, government by discussion. The months of protests by miners strengthened that tradition. But the final building of the stockade and the one morning of battle defied that tradition.

We should celebrate Eureka and its democratic protests as a landmark event in Australian history. But we should not go too far in celebrating the battle itself, exciting and tragic as it was. The main lesson of Eureka is that debate, negotiation and compromise are more effective and humane than an appeal to arms".

Geoffrey Blainey 29 June 2004


A speech by John Ireland at the launch in Ballarat of the Eureka 150 Democracy Conference 24 August 2004.

May I begin by thanking the University of Ballarat for inviting me to take part in launching this Conference.

This is the third Conference I have attended on Eureka and its legacy organised by the Universities in Ballarat. At each of the previous two our understanding of what happened at Eureka has been modified and enlarged. Ten years ago several speakers were still maintaining the Government’s case at the Treason Trials, i.e. that the meeting on Wednesday 29 November was a call to take up arms and that the Thursday meeting was simply a continuation of the seditious Wednesday one. The discovery of the shorthand writer’s transcripts of the Trials demonstrated clearly that the temper of the two meetings was totally different and that what had caused the change was the Licence Hunt on the Thursday morning, which the Government had quite failed to mention in its presentation of the Prosecution case. Truth in Government was an issue then as well as now!

At the next Conference questions were asked about the influence of the British Chartists in formulating the Ballarat Reform League’s Charter and whether, indeed, this Ballarat Charter was the programme for change which the Diggers thought represented their views. In other words, that the Charter encapsulated what the diggers meant by their ‘rights and freedoms’ which they swore by the Southern Cross to uphold.

I look forward to what this Conference will bring to light. I know of two new issues that will come up but I am sure there will be more. The first issue is the spelling out of why the contention of some that manhood suffrage was already promised in the New Constitution is both mistaken and misleading, and the other is the question of whether the swearing of the Oath under the Flag really took place on the Thursday afternoon or on the Friday morning! New evidence has emerged suggesting that it might have indeed been on the Friday.

One of the interesting things about the Eureka story is that new evidence is still emerging and this is a reason why these Conferences are so important. As the story becomes clearer, so the implications of its influence on later events becomes clearer too.

It is now much clearer than ten years ago what the miners were fighting for and why the Government thought their campaign so dangerous as to need ruthless suppression. The understanding of the Chartist links explains why the Government viewed the miners’ agitation with such fear. Just six years previously huge Chartist agitation in Britain had called forth an equally huge demonstration of the force available to the Government to put the demonstrations down. It did not come to armed confrontation in Britain, fortunately, and the Chartists were cowed. What were the Chartists demanding? Why, democracy! What was the Victorian Government putting down? Democracy! But, though the Government won the battle at Eureka, it did not succeed in putting down democracy. Why? Because the casual use of such violence on its part turned the majority of the good citizens of Victoria against it and within a short space of time most people moved from being either anti- or luke-warm towards democracy to supporting it, and supporting a programme of change to bring it in.

And we have never wavered since. We became one of the first democratic nations in the world and proud of it. One of the interesting things about the debates about voting rights just prior to Federation is that, at a time when no country in Europe offered manhood suffrage, except the Swiss, nobody at all questioned whether there should be a vote for all adult males here. The debate was all about votes for women. In Britain this was not granted until the 1920’s and in France not until after the 1939-45 War. Admittedly we were totally blind to the rights of aborigines and other non-white people to vote, but, then, so was the Land of the Free where non-whites were systematically prevented from exercising their voting rights too.

If you ask, What would have happened to the campaign for democracy in Victoria if Eureka had not occurred? I think the answer has to be that it would have happened anyway, but neither so quickly, nor would it have been so overwhelmingly embraced on all sides. By dramatising the issues Eureka speeded up the quest for democracy and made it a central issue in the way Victoria has evolved to this day.

Secret Ballot, Regular Elections and Payment of Members of Parliament (so that poor men might represent the Poor), these were all Victorian firsts and on the Chartist programme. It took much longer to deal with equal Electoral Electoral Districts and get rid of the Rural Gerrymander, and the entrenched conservative power of the Upper House was only finally broken just last year. A matter that has not been much noticed was the way that itinerant workers, like miners and shearers for instance, were denied the vote until the 1930’s, when the richer classes became more mobile in their new motorcars, by the failure to put any provision for Absentee voting in place.

There is much to talk about. I commend the debates at the Conference to you.

Thank you.

© John Ireland 24 August 2004

Eureka Commemorative Coin

The Royal Australian Mint struck a coin commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Eureka Stockade. For three days only coin enthusiasts had a chance to strike an E mintmark on the coin, with the mintmark machine operating at the Eureka Stockade Centre. It was the first time in the mint's history that an E had been struck on a coin. [2]

The commemorative coin is an aluminium bronze $1 coin featuring a design by the winner of the Sydney Olympic victory medal competition, Wojciech Pietranik. Polish born Pietranik drew inspiration from the Charles Doudiet Eureka Slaughter painting. [3]

Eureka 150 Democracy Conference

The Eureka 150 Democracy Conference was held from Thursday 25 November 2004 until Saturday 27 November, at the University of Ballarat Caro Conference Centre, Mt Helen.

Eureka Encyclopeadia

After more than 20 years research the Eureka Encyclopaedia was launched on 01 December 2005 by Ballarat MHR Catherine King. With funding denied, the authors Justin Corfield, Dorothy Wickham and Clare Gervasoni published the tome as a 'labour or love'. It is one of the few lasting tributes from the Eureka 150 celebrations.

In 2005 the Eureka Encyclopaedia was the overall winner of the Victorian Community History Awards. This publication was awarded silver in the Australasian Printers' Guild Awards. It was also nominated for the Prime Minister's Award.

Anton Hasell, Eureka Circle. Photography: Clare Gervasoni, 2013.
Eureka Circle marks the 150th anniversary of the Eureka Rebellion, and captures its sacrifices, sense of noble cause and spirit of unity. Commissioned by the City of Ballarat and the Victorian Government's Regional Infrastructure Development Fund. Unveiled by Premier Steve Bracks 26th November 2004.

Eureka Circle

Dr Anton Hasell's Eureka Circle sculpture was erected in the Eureka Stockade Memorial Park to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Eureka Stockade. The sculpture comprises of 20 steel panels depicting the Eureka story. Dr Hasell said he designed the interpretive sculpture with the intention of creating an experience facing every mner on the goldfields at that time - either to join in or to stay out. The artist wanted visitors to experience the feeling of entering the barricade, to cross a line with many layers attached to it. [4]


The Age Eureka 150 Article

The City of Ballarat, with support from the State Government, is planning to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Eureka Stockade. While historians and commentators continue to debate the significance of Eureka and, in particular, its impact on the development of our democracy, there is general acceptance that its sesqui-centenary is a milestone that should be observed in appropriate ways..

While the focus of attention will understandably be on Ballarat during November and December 2004, activities are also planned for Melbourne and elsewhere throughout the year. Nationally, special coins will be struck by the Canberra and Perth Mints and Australia Post will issue commemorative stamps.

Interestingly, it was not until the early 1970’s that the community leaders of Ballarat began to feel comfortable in accepting and even celebrating the fact that their city’s unique place in Australian history was largely because of a violent battle fought in 1854 on the Eureka diggings.

Indeed what is undoubtedly the most recognizable symbol of that battle, the flag of the Southern Cross, was for almost a century kept out of sight in a cupboard at the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery.

Not so today. Since it was conserved and mounted and subsequently unveiled by the then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1973, the Eureka Flag has held pride of place amongst the Gallery’s collection. Now permanently displayed in a shrine-like setting, visitors (pilgrims?) are encouraged and almost compelled to pay homage to the flag and to reflect on its significance.

After all, this is the flag that was first raised on Bakery Hill on the 29th November 1854 when several thousand diggers gathered in protest at their unjust treatment at the hands of the colonial administration and swore to stand by each other and fight to defend their rights and liberties. The same flag that four days later on the 3rd December flew defiantly over the digger’s crudely built stockade at Eureka, only to be torn down and desecrated as the troopers and police mounted their surprise attack in the early hours of that fateful day.

A decade or so after the battle, Ballarat had ceased to be a frontier town. The wealth of gold had created a city of grace and stature and its citizens had taken on an air of respectability. There was by now a degree of uneasiness about Eureka and, in particular, the motives of the diggers in taking up arms against legitimate authority. Many even held a view that the diggers were malcontents and rebellious in nature and their intentions were quite simply less than honourable.

Nevertheless, a park was created and a memorial erected to commemorate the battle and Eureka did have its champions. Perhaps the most famous of these was Mark Twain who, after visiting Ballarat, enthusiastically claimed of Eureka, “It was a revolution – small in size, but great politically; it was a strike for liberty, a struggle for a principle, a stand against injustice and oppression……It is another instance of a victory won by a lost battle.”

Those who are so quick to dismiss Eureka and its significance, tend to focus on the battle and ignore other important developments on the Ballarat diggings at the time. To brand the Eureka participants as malcontents and trouble-makers misses the point entirely.

Many of those who emerged as leaders of the diggers were educated men who had come to the Victorian Goldfields from all over the world. They brought with them a well-developed sense of liberty and freedom. They were influenced by the rise of Chartism in Britain and the revolutionary movements in Europe.

Their aspirations were fundamentally democratic and were given expression through the formation of the Ballarat Reform League at a mass meeting of 10,000 people on Bakery Hill on 11 November 1854. They sought to pursue their rights and liberties through peaceful and democratic means. They developed their own Charter based on the principle that “…it is the inalienable right of every citizen to have a voice in the laws he is called upon to obey – that taxation without representation is tyranny”.

The Reform League’s Charter, which is held at the Victorian Public Record Office, is an inspiring document, yet its existence is unknown to most people. It should however be acknowledged for its symbolic importance in the development of the Australian democratic ethos.

The Government’s response to the Reform League’s democratic overtures was to increase the number of brutal license hunts on the Ballarat diggings. Those who wished to pursue their objectives through peaceful means could no longer control the digger’s anger and frustration. New leaders emerged, such as Peter Lalor, who felt they had no recourse other than to take up arms.

Today Ballarat is proud of its place in Australian history. The Eureka story is entertainingly presented each night in Sovereign Hill’s “Blood on the Southern Cross” sound and light show. A multi-million dollar interpretive centre stands near the site of the battle and the Eureka Flags fly over the Town Hall and other buildings in Ballarat.

Maybe it is an exaggeration to say that democracy was born at Eureka, but a claim can justifiably made that Eureka was the birthplace of the Australian spirit. What the diggers wanted was a fair go and isn’t that what the Australian spirit is all about?

150 years on, the battle lost and the victory won at Eureka is indeed worthy of commemoration and celebration..

David Miller

8 January 2004


  1. Ballarat Courier, 12 November 2004.
  2. Ballarat Courier, 23 February 2004.
  3. Ballarat Courier, 23 February 2004.
  4. Ballarat Courier, 05 November 2004.
Charles A. Doudiet, Eureka Slaughter 3rd December, 1854, watercolour, pen and ink on paper.
Courtesy Art Gallery of Ballarat, purchased by the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery with the assistance of many donors, 1996.
Eureka 150 poster, 2004.
Courtesy University of Ballarat Collection